Friday, April 26, 2013

Guess Who's 5?

That kind of crept up on me. 

It was 5 years ago today that the first post appeared on I've made it a tradition to wish myself happy birthday each year, and I figured why not do it at least one more time? Here's 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012

In the past I have done a bit of a round up in each of these posts, looking back over the past 12 months. There's less to look back on this year than in the past. My posting rate has dropped way off, partially compliments of a job change and move which greatly reduced my railfanning time along with resulting in the destruction of my previous layout. I've had to start over, and at times it has been slow. Matter of fact, the 9 posts I have made this year are fewer than lots of months in past years. 

I still enjoy sharing occasional stories in this venue, although it's become more common to share photos on flickr or facebook, which reduces the amount of blogging material I have. 

Here are some fun facts about As of the time of this writing, blogger says there have been almost 74,000 pageviews. The all time most popular post was "What is ATCS?" from 2009, which is responsible for nearly 1000 of those views all by itself. The second most popular post features a photo of some great railfanning friends at the Granite City Train Show: "When They Say the World's Greatest Hobby". The total post count is up to somewhere around 420. 

This hobby continues to be about people more than anything. One of the great blessings of the past year for me has been getting to know more railfans and modelers. I really feel that I have been welcomed to the Twin Ports area and can't overstate how much I appreciate that welcome. I certainly miss Wadena and the Staples Sub but the guys around here make up for it. On the plus side, hopefully I can round up a bunch of fans to bring to Verndale this year and add some Duluth/Superior flavor to that annual get-together. 

A new job has greatly reduced the amount of time I spend along the tracks, although I do get to see the occasional lake boat out the office window now. I never realized quite how lucky I was to have the chance to combine work with pleasure, but now I do. It does make the time I get to spend along the tracks now even more special. 

On the modeling front, progress has been slow but steady. It will take years before I get to the point I was when I tore down my last layout (I'm a slow worker) but the journey is enjoyable and that's the important part. 

Finally, I am still blessed with a Mrs. L4T who is willing to humor my desire to "train hunt", sometimes by accompanying me, and other times by letting me run off on the spur of the moment and stay out longer than I told her I would. For her patience and understanding I will always be thankful. 

PS: I am still taking some train pictures. One from last Saturday:

And here's one from today, spotted on the way home from work and shot after a short detour down the interstate:

Til next time, keep looking!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Dream Trip

Today was a special day for a railfan (me). I received a call from Dan Mackey a couple of days ago, informing me that I just HAD to take Thursday off. When asked why, he just said to trust him, it would be worth it. Sure enough he was right.

The big surprise turned out to be a trip from the Depot in Duluth to Palmers, via rail. Specifically, a pair of ex-DMIR SD's headed up to grab a coal train that had been stored on the North Shore Scenic Railroad for the winter.

We started the day with a healthy breakfast at the Sunshine Cafe on Grand Ave in Duluth. Soon we were at the Depot, doing all the things that need to be done to prepare locomotives for work. Anyway everyone else was, while I mostly just tagged along doing what I was told. (That's a specialty of mine.) After what seemed like forever, much of that time involving things like locomotive inspections, adding 20 gallons of oil to one unit, and getting a track warrant, we were off. Engineer Mackey was sporting a fancy new Enbridge Rail North Dakota hat as we prepared for the trip through Duluth.

My co-workers heard the horn as we passed in front of my new office, the tracks just across the interstate from the downtown Duluth office where I should have been sitting. We got waves from a number of folks on the lakewalk as we passed. 

The further up the lakeshore we went, the deeper the snow got. Just a couple of miles before reaching Palmers, the track was completely covered and the pair of EMD's got a mini snowplowing workout as they cleared track unused since fall. After we arrived at out destination I jumped out and grabbed a shot of 316, which had led us up the line long hood forward and wore some snow on her pilot as a celebration of April in Minnesota. 

It was shortly after this that I learned my purpose for joining the group on this trip. Today was my first lesson in how to assist with a brake test. I also was reminded what it is like to wade through heavy, wet snow nearly knee deep. It's hard work that reminded me of meter reading back in the old days. It also reminded me of why I kind of appreciate an office job. Oh, and by the way, I also snuck away to shoot the power after it was coupled up to the train. 

I had to be back in the office by 2 PM for a VIM (very important meeting). One thing I DO know about railroads is this-late trains tend to get later. This one had left the depot just a bit later than I was comfortable with given the 2:00 deadline I was facing, and I chickened out and grabbed a ride back to town so I could be assured of making it in time. Before leaving, I noticed the sun had come out and blue skies were moving in, so I grabbed one more shot of the train. 

My apologies to Kevin Madsen for posting a shot with the door open :). But with a crew like this, whatcha gonna do? 

I made it back with 10 minutes to spare after having to park on the 5th level of the parking ramp at work. When I walked in the office, my co-workers were all a-twitter with questions about my adventure. They know more about the NSSR than they did before. 

All in all, a great day. It's a rare event to even get to see a pair of locomotives like this working together in 2013, much less actually get to ride in the leader. Wish I could have stuck around for the return trip, but duty calls and all that. Thanks to Dan, and John, and the entire crew at the railroad for making me feel welcome and actually finding something I could do to help. It was a memory I won't forget.